How my work improved after a public writing break

What do you need to do for your creativity?

For October, my favorite of months, I took a break from writing publicly. That meant no new client work, no Twitter schedule, no blog posts, no reporting -- no writing for anyone except myself. Having worked in journalism, marketing and social media for years, I felt like a lifelong smoker flushing my cigarettes, sure I'd relapse and furtively puff out an open bathroom window during a dinner party.

And I did sneak a few scrolls through my social accounts and participate in a couple of Twitter chats. But I received this huge gift, which is that I learned how to be tender with myself and not criticize what I previously would have called mistakes. I dug deep to figure out why I was postponing my creative work by being active elsewhere:

  • Something happens and I instantly compose a Twitter quip in my head? Maybe I have a craving to edit.
  • Jump into a Twitter chat? Maybe I feel like contributing to others.
  • Spend 30 minutes combing through Facebook? Maybe I'm feeling lonely.
  • Scroll through Instagram in bed? Maybe I need visual stimulation.
  • Hunting for new freelance clients? Maybe I think I need to justify the time spent on non-lucrative creative work.

Like in The One-Week Daily Writing Devotional, these check-ins helped me better understand and feel more in control of my insides so I could employ them. I steered toward creative work, which was all the richer for being influenced solely by my thoughts and not those of anyone else I'd read online that day or restructured for a client.

For October, my favorite of months, I took a break from writing publicly. And I received this huge gift, which is that I learned how to be tender with myself and not criticize what I previously would have called mistakes. As Mary Oliver writes, I finally knew what I had to do, and began.

Here's how my month looked:

  • Week 1: Think about everything I'm missing out on. Give in and check Twitter and Facebook a few times.
  • Week 2: Have an interesting Craigslist interaction, and start a new story draft. At the end of the week, find myself with 1,500 words.
  • Week 3: On Tuesday, I forgot about Facebook. Seriously, you guys: FORGOT IT EXISTED. It was a beautiful moment.
  • Week 4: Add 1,250 words to story. Feel like I'm establishing a state of mind conducive to writing, with a lessening concern about what others think of it.

I have a photographer friend who also experiences that last piece: worrying what others will think of her choices. She's fulfilled and motivated by her creative work yet compels herself to take on client work to keep up appearances. I totally identify with that -- Have you experienced it as well? What would it look like if we each did our own thing, cheering one another on along the way without judgmentI have a feeling the majority of the judgment is self-imposed and not from others anyhow.

There's a Mary Oliver poem printed out and stuck into a flowerpot here on my desk. It's wrinkled along the bottom, having gotten wet, and I sort of love how it looks beaten up, used, loved. It's called "The Journey":

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice --
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do --
determined to save
the only life that you could save.

What's the life you want to save? How do you want this week to be, today, this hour? It's your choice. We give ourselves over to be pulled in others' directions, have our time dictated by supervisors, partners, neighbors, children, the internet. But if right now you focused on your interior life, where it's just you and you and you, would you know what you have to do?

When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives might be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
— Wendell Berry

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